It wasn't until last year while I went through shelves and shelves of Holiday themed romances that I actually read one. There I was, working at the library, setting up display upon display of holly jolly books, and people were coming up and asking for recommendations and I was the Scrooge that hadn't dabbled in the glitter and mistletoe.
I was a reindeer in the headlights.
The Paperback Queen. The Book Slut. The Swooner of Rakes, Lumberjacks and Alphas alike.
And I hadn't read a holiday romance? What was wrong with me? The swoony moments are bountiful in books filled with hometown drama, depressed drinking, and forced cheer.
So, I jumped in with spread hands and I grabbed and I took and it was magic.
Here wrapped in shiny bows are some of my favorite holiday romances. May they cover you in tinsel and sexual tension.
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I didn't want it to end.
Is there a better endorsement than that?
I wanted this story to be longer, but for what it was, it was perfect. This has been my favorite Christmas read this year. There's just something about Kleypas and especially when she's writing a contemporary that hits me in all the right places. The...I don't even know what to call it...spark? chemistry? between Mark and Maggie? It gives you that tight chest feeling of anticipation just to read it. Kleypas has a way of writing something as simple as holding someone's hand and making a girl swoon.
A sad little girl that needs some Christmas magic? Got it. Interesting, broken brothers brought together by little girl? In spades. A shabby, Victorian that's slowly coming together, sort of like this new family they're making there in delightfully charming Friday Harbor? And then you've got Maggie who doesn’t believe in love anymore, but as the owner of a toy store she's a big believer in magic. And when she meets sad and broken Holly who needs some magic? Sparks. Written with a deft pen.
This will be an every year sort of reread.
Must Love Mistletoe by Christie Ridgway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I actually read this one for the first time like two summers ago, and even reading it during a ridiculously humid summer I felt...festive. The tiny town strung with lights all centered around The Perfect Christmas, the local landmark of a Christmas store stationed in an old Victorian home. The store is usually run by Tracy and Dan, but they're on the outs so their Scrooge-like daughter comes home from big bad LA where she is the cynical woman who shuns attachments and manages money hungry divorce attorneys.
Now, she's back home. Where she hasn't been since she left at 18. Where she left her first love. The bad boy she once tamed. The bad boy who is back too.
Did Bailey drive me nuts sometimes? Yes. I just didn't understand how she could have based such huge life choices on her flaky dad's flaky advice. I never can get people who throw in the towel for fear of getting too close. But that's just me. Did I believe that Bailey, as her character was drawn, was capable of doing that at 18? Yes, so that's what counts. But Finn? Oh, in the end I just needed that man to be happy. And my one big issue with the book was I wish the end was one page longer. Great that Bailey comes to her senses, but I wish I could have heard Finn's reaction to finally getting everything he wanted.
A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This might have been my favorite Virgin River yet. Wait, maybe it wasn't, because I did love the first so much, but this one? I don't know how to fully explain how much I loved the story of Ian and Marcie. It was the perfect Christmas story. In the way that it stirred up all the feelings we want to think about when it comes to Christmas. Not the shiny, retail parts, but the bits about faith in something or someone. The idea of snowy nights and unconditional love and bright stars to lead us home.
Marcie is my absolute favorite. I adored her so much. She's this tiny, scrappy girl with a stubborn streak a mile wide. She is hell bent on finding Ian Buchanan, the man who saved her husband in Iraq, and gave her three years with him before he finally passed last Christmas. Now she needs to find Ian, who has disappeared into a California mountain town, and get from him...something. Bobby has been gone for a year and she still is stuck and believes Ian is the key.
Ian looks like Grizzly Adams and is living a very simple life off the land and wasn't so much hiding as much as no one but Marcie was trying to find him. He's not necessarily a broken man, but he's a tired one trying to forget his guilt. So when he discovers the fiery redhead with a snowed in VW Beetle on his land he can't help but...roar.
I loved them both. I loved their simple days in his cabin. I love the slow build up to something more. I loved the glimpses of Virgin River during Christmas. I loved Marcie's wit, her warm personality that was impossible to not want to get closer to, and her absolute fearless determination. When her protective older sister came to rescue her? That Marcie has gumption. And that Ian has a heart tucked away beneath all that beard.
Holiday in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It is just me or in a lot of series when they put out the obligatory Christmas book it's sort of just there. It doesn't really bring anything monumental to the table, instead it's just a time to visit, put up some lights, solve a light problem and wrap things up with big, glittery bows.
And yet you tell J.D. Robb to write a Christmas book and SHE FITS ALL OF THE THINGS INTO IT.
I don't know how she does it. I really don't.
Roarke and Eve continue to seduce me with the growth and super hot sexy of their relationship. I know all of these people now, and this is a world I gladly give myself over to, and seven books in, it just continues to grow. It's completely bananas to me. I've never seen a series do this before. Not this many books in.
My only eh is if soon the murderer possibly might not have an issue with their mother. Just an idea.
The Gift: Home for Christmas / All I Want for Christmas by Nora Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Everything Nora Roberts writes is character-driven, which is why she's one of my favorites and is usually always a good read. Her worst is better than some people's best, because she's just that good.
That being said, this had a little from column A and a little from column B.
Home For Christmas was one of my least favorite set-ups. Rebel without a cause skipped town, because he needed to see the bright lights of the big city, leaving behind his girlfriend, who he happened to have sex with ONCE, and of course she couldn't come along because all she wants in life is lace curtains and a little house in town, so of course she can't come. Not until he can set her up with those things. Those damned lacy curtains.
I can't stand when Bad Boy takes the decision making upon himself and leaves behind his Great Love. Even worse when he does so when she's unknowingly knocked up. So, of course, she has to marry some other dude to give her baby a name. And of course they divorce and he leaves and when the child is a charming running around cut-out of her mother, Bad Boy returns home. This one had glimpses of spark. But it went soapy and wooden. Everyone was in love, everyone was mad, and how could you keep that baby from me! how could you leave! how could I not?!
All the points are hit that are supposed to be hit to wrap up this story. Secrets! are revealed then children go missing and everyone comes together and it's...not authentic. It felt like a brainstorming session of plot where not one character was fleshed out in the process.
All I Want For Christmas on the other hand was everything a holiday short story should be. Charming, sweet, sexy and believable enough to contain the magic that makes a Christmas story work. Zack and Zeke were ridiculously adorable with their search for "The Mom" and their dad was an apprehensive stud, and for good reason. More than anything he was a good dad who happens to finally feel the stirrings of something for the new music teacher, Nell, a total spitfire I loved. I enjoyed their banter and the way she began to disarm him. It was lovely and sweet and wrapped up quickly at the end, but I expected that. For a short story? Loved it.
Christmas, am I right? It's good stuff. It's telling a classic story with new parts and bright sparks and it's the tight chest feeling and sexy hot chocolate.
May your chestnuts roast as you forget about the year and rock out with your garland out.